Tight race as sweeps near finish

Eye leads in viewers, NBC nudges Fox in 18-49 demo

The final full week of the May sweep was a very competitive one, with season finales of its Thursday hits helping NBC edge out Fox among young adults.

CBS led the way as usual in total viewers, while tying ABC for third in adults 18-49. The nets now figure to finish the season tied in the key demo (3.8/10), with the Alphabet’s average boosted by the Super Bowl.

The WB moved up to fourth in adults 18-34, helped by record-setting numbers for the series finale of “Dawson’s Creek.”

According to national estimates from Nielsen for the week of May 12-18, NBC (4.7/13) led among adults 18-49 with Fox (4.6/13) just a tick behind. As has been the case in recent weeks, NBC pulled away in the 25-54 breakdown (5.5/14), with Fox winning easily in 18-34 (4.8/15).

The Peacock’s 70-minute season finale of “Friends” was the week’s top program in adults 18-49 (12.4/36), grabbing the highest rating for any scripted series on any network since November. The finales of “Will & Grace” (10.6/26) and “ER” (10.4/27) also finished among the frame’s top five, helping NBC double the Thursday average of second-place CBS (11.2/30 vs. 5.6/15).

Elsewhere, net’s “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” hit its highest Sunday 18-49 rating ever (6.0/15), while Monday movie “Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Three’s Company” (4.5/11) also did pretty well.

NBC continued to struggle with its Tuesday comedies, though, as “Frasier” (3.6/9) fell to third — behind ABC’s “According to Jim” (4.1/10) — and “Watching Ellie” (2.8/7) was fifth.

At Fox, “American Idol” surged to its best numbers in nearly four months, helping the net win Tuesday in 18-49 for a 19th straight week and Wednesday for the 12th straight.

Laffer “Bernie Mac” continues to thrive in its post-“Idol” slot on Wednesday, delivering its highest ratings ever (7.6/17 in A18-49, 15.84m), while “24,” “That ’70s Show,” “The Simpsons,” “Cops” and “America’s Most Wanted” also led their timeslots in 18-49.

ABC, third for the week in 18-49 (tied) and 18-34, delivered its best averages since the Academy Awards in late March.

The two-hour Sunday conclusion of dating skein “The Bachelor” (7.2/17 in A18-49, 15.05m) was down from previous finales of the show but helped the net win the night in demos. Also, Tuesday’s “NYPD Blue,” featuring the return of Kim Delaney, won its hour in 18-49 (4.8/13), and Thursday’s NBA playoff game was second to NBC in adults 18-34 and young males.

The “Daytime Emmys” (2.6/9 in A18-49, 8.63m) fell to a new low with its 30th anniversary edition on Friday Curiously, it was down 22% year-to-year in adults 18-34 (1.8/7 vs. 2.3/8) but up 67% in teens to a five-year high (2.0/9 vs. 1.2/5).

CBS won Monday in 18-49, led by “CSI: Miami” (6.6/17) and “Everybody Loves Raymond (5.8/15), with “Still Standing” ending its season in fine fashion (5.0/12). Net also scored a rare Friday victory behind “Star Search” and two repeats of “CSI.”

On Sunday, the Eye won easily in total viewers with a two-hour “60 Minutes” spec celebrating the newsmag’s 35th anniversary (12.94m) and the start of mini “Hitler: The Rise of Evil” (13.62m), which did pretty well despite tough competish.

The WB’s “Dawson’s Creek” established a net record in both adults 18-34 (6.6/18) and women 18-34 (9.9/21) — nearly three full ratings points above the previous high set by “7th Heaven” in 1999 (Daily Variety, May 16).

“Dawson” and “Smallville” finished among the week’s top five dramas among persons 12-34, lifting the Frog to a fourth-place finish. Among adults 18-34, “Dawson’s” was the No. 2 drama of the week, behind only “ER.”

UPN’s year-to-year declines were minimal, as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” improved with its penultimate episode, and a second episode of “Enterprise” lifted the net on Wednesday.

It was a good week for sports on basic cable, with NBA playoffs on TNT, wrestling on TNN (soon to become Spike) and a Winston Cup auto race on FX accounting for the week’s top five spots in both adults 18-49 and total viewers.

Tuesday’s NBA playoff contest between the Lakers and San Antonio Spurs was on top of the list (3.5 national rating in 18-49, 7.65 million viewers overall), helping TNT win the week in both 18-49 (1.2 rating) and overall audience (2.95 million).

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